Tuesday, February 14, 2012

That's Just Ducky

It's a very common thing to feel like an outcast, especially in a world where fitting in and being a part of a group is seen as so important.  I see students struggling to fit in every day in school and succeeding and failing about equally in this, and I often wonder if it's something that we really can fix?  I mean think about it?  Most stories that we see nowadays aren't about being an individual but about coming to be accepted by the group.  Some would say this is a positive, but isn't that just giving the masses the permission that it's "ok" to accept people into the assimilation machine?  Where are the heartwarming stories about characters who embrace their individuality and shun the group?  They do exist, but not in enough numbers. Too often we see the outcast embraced and assimilated into the group, sacrificing part of themselves in order to make the transition and we cheer for them not because it is good...but because it is what we all secretly want.  We all want to belong.  I can't help thinking of this subversive tactic when I'm watching films that we're supposed to hate, because I often feel like these films are outcasts that refuse to play by the group's rules...and therefore are shunned like the nerdy girl at a house party.  One in particular I avoided for years because it had an infamous reputation of being one of the worst films ever made, and yet when I finally watched this supposed travesty of filmmaking, I was not turned off.  Indeed, I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all and honestly believing that that was what I was supposed to be doing.  True, audiences are never going to embrace really wild ideas like pregnant men, interspecies relations, and (in the case of today's film) foulmouthed water foul.  So it is with the interest of the outcast in mind that I bring to you a proud-to-be-different film called Howard the Duck.

Howard the Duck is living a fairly average life in Duckworld, the duck equivalent of Earth, where anthropomorphic ducks have evolved to achieve civilization rather than people.  It is very clear that Howard lives a fine life, but is dissatisfied in his day-to-day routine.  All that changes, however, when a intergalactic beam grabs him and transports him to Earth...Cleveland, Ohio to be precise.  Earth's citizens are not thrilled about running into a 4-foot, talking duck and so Howard is immediately shunned, reviled, and even punished for not being more human.  However he makes a friend in Beverly Switzler, a rocker in a band, who is saved by Howard when he whips up some "Quack Fu" on some muggers who accost her.  Together, Beverly and Howard try to discover why he is here and how to send them back.  Teamed with a batty scientist named Phil Blumburtt, they track down the source of the beam that brought Howard here to a large electromagnetic telescope that has the force to lock onto beings several galaxies away and bring them here.  Things take a turn for the worst, however, when while trying to send Howard back they inadvertantly grab ahold of one of the Dark Overlords of the Universe, who then takes residence inside of Dr. Walter Jenning and threatens to destroy the world.  It's up to Howard, Beverly, and Phil to stop him before it's too late.

Howard the Duck is universally considered one of the worst films ever made...and there is a lot to recommend that honor.  The film centers around a 4 foot tall anthropomorphic duck which, no matter how you justify it, just seems silly.  Then there is the idea that Beverly isn't just a friend to Howard, but she is actually attracted to him.  This tends to turn most people's stomachs in the same way that homosexuality does for people who aren't affected by such feelings.  The performances and story are campy as hell, and it often feels like two films hastily sewn together (one half is a fish-out-of-water story, the other is an alien invasion plot).  Yet, I cannot find it in myself to fault Howard.  Yes, it is a bad movie...but based on the level of humor and the way much of the film is staged, it is clear that that is the filmmaker's intention.  It's as if they said, "How do you take a film where the star is a duck seriously?" and then answered "You don't."  Everything about the film is parody from the 80s lifestyles and fashions, to the way we stereotype outsiders and weirdos.  The film does not pander to us either by making the obvious and overplayed route of making a "It's ok to be me" movie.  It doesn't even broach that topic...no it revels in doing what people wouldn't do with a story like this...by having Howard try to join human civilization and giving the finger to anyone who won't let him....and then it makes him fight a big, greasy monster.  It's totally absurd and I have to believe that that is what the filmmakers intended...and America simply didn't get the joke.  Granted, the joke isn't all that funny to begin with...but it certainly does make us look like schmucks in the way it lampoons both American culture and the way we treat those who are different.  Maybe we're more comfortable when films about outsiders make us cry rather than make us laugh...afterall, films like Carrie and Mask still pack them in.  Odd that we can cry for the losers, but we can't laugh at ourselves for making them that way.

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